Castell Project looks to improve hospitality's diversity problem

Because all women are under-represented, Black women are 2.8 percent of all women shown at the director through CEO levels in the hospitality industry. Photo credit: Getty / EPlus / kate_sept2004 (Women Leadership)

The lack of diversity across the hospitality industry has been a problem for years, with white men dominating the C suites of most major businesses across the sector and comparatively few women or people of color in positions of power. 

Several studies have noted the lack of diversity in hotel leadership. Last year’s NAACP 2019 Opportunity and Diversity Report Card: Hotel and Resort Industry examined the workplace diversity of four of the United States’ largest hotel companies—Hilton, Hyatt Hotels Corp., Marriott International and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts—and concluded little progress has been made since the organization's 2005 evaluation. In fact, according to data the NAACP cited from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the percentage of non-Hispanic white people in top management positions rose from 71 percent in 2007 to 81 percent in 2015.

More recently, the Castell Project, an organization dedicated to accelerating the careers of women professionals in the hospitality industry, released the Black Representation in Hospitality Leadership 2020 report, examining the role of Black leaders across the sector. Like the NAACP study, the Castell Project’s report found a distinct lack of Black people in leadership roles at most hotel companies.

The research for the report began in January after several months of discussion, Castell Project Chair Peggy Berg said. “We wanted to develop a database for our Women in Hospitality Industry Leadership Report that was a little more robust and stronger than what we've been using,” she recalled. The team began looking at websites of 630 hotel companies listed in the STR Directory of Hotel & Lodging Companies to see who businesses were promoting as their leaders, and realized that photos of leadership teams offered a broader range of information. “We decided that we would also [calculate] race, because we could.” 

As diversity became a hotter topic, the research team realized this information could help the industry see where it could improve, “something statistical to carry the conversation,” she said. 

According to the research, of the 630 hotel company websites reviewed, 84 percent do not show any Black executives on their websites, while only 102, or 16 percent, showed a Black employee at the director level or above. Because all women are under-represented, Black women are 2.8 percent of all women shown at the director through CEO levels. Because there are so many more total male executives, Black men are 1 percent of all men in these roles, an even smaller percent than Black women on a gender-to-gender basis.

What Happens Next

While the numbers can be seen as disheartening, Berg is focused on what she and other leaders in the industry can do to make things better. For example, she calculated there are 66 non-Black VPs for every Black VP in a position of leadership across the industry. “We can challenge ourselves to change that number,” she said. “We can find people of capacity in our talent pool, get them the supplemental training that they need, the mentorship they need, and help them move up. We know because the study of diversity is not new.” 

With the report shining a light on the problem, Berg hopes leaders in the hospitality industry will participate in the conversation. “There's a perception in some areas that the easiest thing to do is say something nice, hunker down and hope it goes away,” she said. “But I don't think that that's the best thing for the industry in the mid- to long-term. So my hope is that the industry will get increasingly engaged in making a shift to equity across all kinds of people.” 

The industry as a whole, Berg continued, needs representation and compensation data across a wider array of jobs than what can be found in the report. “So the first thing I would hope the industry does is produce, on a regular basis, data that goes down to the executive committee level inside of hotels, as well as in the corporate offices, so that we know where the big challenges start and we can address them more effectively,” she said. 

Berg also thinks improving diversity could help the industry solve its labor problem. “You have to be attractive to future talent,” she said. “We need to be considerably more honest and present ourselves better. And in preventing ourselves better, we have to be better.” 

The Castell Project plans to release an update in January to show the impact on Black representation as the industry rehires. While conducting the research, the team recognized its own lack of leadership diversity, and pledged to make its board of directors racially diverse by the end of 2020. The group also will implement measurable plans this year to make each of its initiatives “significantly” more inclusive, and to use its programs as catalysts to advance diversity and inclusion in the hospitality industry.